Did Katherine Wilson (aka Sharon Gould) hoax the wrong magazine?

As Jason Soon and Don Arthur correctly predicted yesterday, ‘Sharon Gould’ is left-wing activist Katherine Wilson.

Jason and I have a bit of a history with Wilson, having been involved in a lively 2006 debate at Lavartus Prodeo on think-tanks and the significance (or otherwise) of who funds them. Wilson tried to wipe her past by getting LP to delete her posts and comments, but it all lives on in the National Library’s archives.

The pieces of the story are really starting to fit together now. Wilson knows the right is evil, but she hasn’t actually read very much of what they say, and is vague on the differences between the various right-of-centre groups and magazines.

For a hoax using gullibility for pro-genetic modification views – Wilson is an anti-GM activist – the target should have been the IPA Review. The IPA has published lots of pro-GM stuff over the years (eg this). The more conservative Quadrant contributors, as I argued on Tuesday, are much less likely to be pro-GM, and indeed likely to be worried about the way genetic science is developing (Quadrant doesn’t have much on its website, but this is the kind of thing I am thinking of).

Of course, IPA Review editor Chris Berg does not have Keith Windschuttle’s reputation as a footnote fetishist, but to make the political point on GM foods he should have been the target. Wilson hoaxed the wrong magazine.

The hoax affair also seems to me to fit with Wilson’s modus operandi. She isn’t much interested in debating the substance of issues with people on the right. Her aim is to discredit them on other grounds.

For think-tanks, all you need to know is that they get corporate donations. During that Lavartus Prodeo debate (at comment 130) she had a moment of candour when, in response to my concern that forcing disclosure of donors to think-tanks might have a chilling effect on political participation, she said that this might be a good thing. As with Smith and Marden, the agenda is to try to diminish the role of think-tanks in public debate.

Similarly, she wants to discredit Quadrant and Windschuttle in particular not by directly taking issue with what they publish, but by making them look foolish by publishing an article she had booby-trapped with errors and false statements.

Quadrant has certainly had a few days of publicity it could have done without, and all of us who edit magazines will be ultra-vigilant with new contributors as a result (though I publish very few previously unknown people anyway). But as I have always maintained in discussions with people like Wilson, ultimately arguments need to stand or fall on their merits, not on funding, editing, or place of publication.

27 Responses to “Did Katherine Wilson (aka Sharon Gould) hoax the wrong magazine?

  • 1
    Sinclair Davidson
    January 8th, 2009 19:25

    Nobody is ever going to bamboozle Chris with a footnote, or a diagram. Maybe, just maybe, a graph. :)

  • 2
    charles
    January 8th, 2009 19:49

    It hit the right spot, in Leslie Cannold’s view. Accord to Leslie, Robert Manne, the previous editor thought it a bit of a joke.

  • 3
    Chris Berg
    January 8th, 2009 20:52

    I’m pretty sure, Sinc, that all it would take would be numbers.

  • 4
    Tim Lambert
    January 8th, 2009 23:24

    You seem to be mistaken about Quadrant and GM. I looked through the archives and Quadrant has published several pro-GM pieces and no anti-GM pieces. So it’s no surprise that Windschuttle would want to publish a pro-GM piece and highlight it on the cover.

    I think the hoax worked because it showed that Windschuttle would flip from “don’t trust the scientists” in all the anti-AGW tripe he has published, to “trust the scientists” in the hoax article. I think it’s clear that he only trusts scientists when they say stuff that he wants to believe. Of course, Wilson is the mirror image of Windschuttle.

  • 5
    TimT
    January 9th, 2009 05:44

    Quadrant has a tradition of publishing Catholic conservatives/Christian conservatives, going back to the original editor James McAuley. I remember a while ago reading a police against tue use 0f stem cell technology, and it would be more than possibile for a Catholic conservative to pen an article for Quadrant against GM.

  • 6
    conrad
    January 9th, 2009 05:47

    “and all of us who edit magazines will be ultra-vigilant with new contributors as a result”

    Yep, this is one of the problems of this type of hoax. It leads to nepotism by locking out new people or making the bar far higher for them than others. It occurs across the scientific world incidentally (for various reasons) — often for entire countries like Australia — In many areas, it’s far harder to publish stuff if you work in Australia than the US unless you have already published some high impact stuff (of which very few early career people who got PhDs in Australia have), let alone get jobs in the US. You can imagine how much worse it is in prestigious journals that get innumerate submissions than unheard of things like Quadrant.

  • 7
    Andrew Norton
    January 9th, 2009 06:47

    Tim L – I did not do a search beyond Quadrant’s website yesterday (plus the memory of reading it for about 25 years), but I did just do a search on a commercial full-text archive going back to 1997, in which it records 2 articles principally about GM foods, both in favour, the latest being in 2004 and critical of public opinion research on GM, so perhaps the inspiration for Wilson’s article. (This was during Paddy’s time as editor; unlike Windschuttle Paddy was clearly pro-science and generally libertarian in his views.) It’s hardly been a major or regular theme, and as Tim T points out including human genes would clearly be provocative for religious conservatives.

    By contrast, the IPA’s search engine comes back with 97 items on ‘GM’ and 38 on ‘genetically modified’.

    And while Wilson’s article was one of ten mentioned on the cover, for someone who is still basically a ’60s radical trying to shock people like Windschuttle it is hard, in the absence of any evidence of his views on this subject, to know whether he was hoping to provoke or to confirm prejudices.

  • 8
    skepticlawyer
    January 9th, 2009 06:50

    Good sleuthing, Andrew, and a very fair point indeed.

  • 9
    TimT
    January 9th, 2009 08:17

    Lots of spelling mistakes in that last comment! Probably because I wrote it IN BED shortly before going back to sleep!

    Yes, I sleep with my laptop. It’s cuddly. Shut up.

  • 10
    roger kalla
    January 9th, 2009 09:24

    I admit that I in the past I have been a practising biotechnologist or perhaps as Katherines Wilson and her like minded backers would like to put it a frontman for the big bad US Gene Companies. At least I have got a patent or two on plant genes which is anathema to these people.

    I am disturbed by Katherines use of the invisibility cloak of science to befuddle the Qudrant and the public. In doing so she is overstepping all kinds of ethical marks realting to science publishing like deliberate misquoting of articles, attributing science experiments to people that have not done them, and so forth.

    Her harmless hoax is an affront to the integrity of science and science publication and could conceivably do harm to real science articles.

    Of course Qaudrant is not a prestigious science journal and is as far as I can judge not set out to be one in the first place. If it was Sharon’s aka Katherine’s article would not have passed the reviewers that are there to ensure that only scientifically sound and factually correct material is published.

    Scienctists or biotachnologists are collateral damage in this cultural war. However it makes me wonder if Katherien and her co conspirators didn’t mind us taking a glancing hit.

  • 11
    Nanu
    January 9th, 2009 11:03

    Good point Roger.

  • 12
    derrida derider
    January 9th, 2009 13:49

    Yep, it shoulda been a climate change article for Quadrant. It could have been far, far more amusing (read: dodgier) than Wilson’s effort and Windschuttle would still have given it a run.

    Too late now though – she’s spoiled the field for more competent hoaxers.

  • 13
    JC
    January 9th, 2009 19:27

    Andrew
    I partly recall Weatherloon wrote a thread blaming the US government for the 911 attacks and some other weird conspiracy theories like that. Is there any way you could help me find it as it would be quite interesting to see what she wrote.

  • 14
    Andrew Norton
    January 9th, 2009 19:33

    JC – If you have a date, it could be found in the NLA archive. But so far as I know you can’t search it.

  • 15
    jc
    January 9th, 2009 19:44

    Lambert says:
    So it’s no surprise that Windschuttle would want to publish a pro-GM piece and highlight it on the cover.

    And you’re point is what, Lambert?

    I think the hoax worked because it showed that Windschuttle would flip from “don’t trust the scientists” in all the anti-AGW tripe he has published, to “trust the scientists” in the hoax article. I think it’s clear that he only trusts scientists when they say stuff that he wants to believe. Of course, Wilson is the mirror image of Windschuttle

    Oh I get it, bash Windy as being anti-science because he’s an AGW sceptic (I’m assuming as we don’t know) and bash him for being pro-science because he supports GM.

    You really do poison the well, Lambert. You poison the well on almost every website. I notice that in all the years you’ve run a Lysenko style “pro-science” website you haven’t once had a go at the anti-science activists that attack GM food. Why would that be now? We should assume your silence will mean that you’re position is identical to the weatherloon and don’t accept “Frankenfoods”.

    And by the way Lambert, what she did wasn’t a hoax. It’s just a variation of a sock puppet.

    Interesting positions you take, Lambert. The double standards and hypocrisy oozes out.

  • 16
    jc
    January 9th, 2009 19:50

    Umm

    Don’t have a date. andrew. But from what I recall it was posted on the website and then taken off soon after.

    I thought it was another poster there, but after doing a bit more thinking I’m almost 100% sure it was her.

    Finding it would more than surprise quite a few of her supporters at Croakey.

    I’ve done a few cache searches but can’t seem to find it.

    Let’s ask Tim if he would be so kind and to look for it seeing he always the impartial advocate… LOL.

    Seriously though from what I recall some her threads at LP were jaw dropping conspiracy theories and the US supposedly attacking the WTC wasn’t the only or the worst one.

  • 17
    C.L.
    January 9th, 2009 20:27

    This Leftwrites thread seems to show that Wilson was open to the possibility that 9/11 was an inside job perpetrated by Bushitler. Funny that a woman who wrote the following now masquerades as an anti-obscurantist science “hoaxer”: “But what of the 7 feet of steel walls in the Pentagon? I loved THAT question. The tiny hole that a jet plane had just been through…”

  • 18
    skepticlawyer
    January 10th, 2009 00:30

    It also depends on when the NLA hits the ‘archive’ button — eg I know they only archive our blog and LP once a month. But yes, I remember the 9/11 Troofer post too. You’re not imagining it, jc.

  • 19
    Sacha
    January 10th, 2009 19:15

    Have to say that I always found “weathergirl” off the edge.

    I agree with Roger Kalla above that scientists are collateral damage.

  • 20
    conrad
    January 11th, 2009 07:07

    “I agree with Roger Kalla above that scientists are collateral damage.”
    .
    Somehow I think that some of the people in the debate are unfortunately probably quite happy to see that — it reminds of the anti-stem cell people and extreme animal experimentation activists. If you don’t like something, just try and shut it down completely.

  • 21
    Sinclair Davidson
    January 11th, 2009 08:41

    I agree scientists are being damaged, but it is not collateral.

  • 22
    conrad
    January 11th, 2009 11:08

    “but it is not collateral.”
    .
    No it definitely isn’t, but I doubt there’s much point in trying to have reasonable arguments with some of these people either on things like GM foods.

  • 23
    jc
    January 11th, 2009 16:34

    What amazes me is that people are rejoicing to Keith’s plight.

    He’s a victim of a fraud and lefties think it’s a joke.

  • 24
    Richie
    January 11th, 2009 20:02

    Of course it’s a joke, because Keith W’s a joke, always has been, always will be.

  • 25
    Philip Shehan
    January 11th, 2009 22:45

    I was banned from Andrew Bolt’s website and told by his accolytes that I have no place on a conservative blog, but do not wish to be shoehorned into idealogical boxes of left, right or anything else. Too many people judge their position on Windshuttle, Wilson or any other subject depending on whether they see themselves as left or right.

    The essential issue and my guiding principle is intellectual integrity, honesty and judging matters on the evidence. The assumption that others held these values cost me my career, and it took a NSW District Court judge to point out my folly when he said “Dr Shehan, the weakest part of your case is that no sensible person would act as you have done.” He got an earful from me along the lines of “Well excuse me for thinking that integrity and the facts mean anything…” I was acquitted and even the prosecutor saw what was going on and the arresting police officer shook my hand at the conclusion of the trial, but may scientific career was destroyed and I was left with a diagnosed condition of Post Traumatic Stress disorder. (My crime had been to call into question the conduct of the head and staff of a reseacrh unit. Counter claims were made against me by these people. It did not occur to me at the time that the politically correct notion that women are the victims, never the perpetrators would rule out any objective examination of the evidence.)

    Having lost one career I was retraining as a teacher, but while in a tutorial I was attacked by two people as a bigot and a racist for stating that the life expectency in advanced industrial countries is twice that of hunter gatherer societies. It is enough to decide that an argument is not helpful to to or elicit sympathy for aborigines to bring about this sort of thing. Stating that I was of partial aboriginal descent only increased the attack.

    As a scientist and scholar who believes in integrity and honesty (being a fetishist I had also studied toward a graduate diploma in History and Philosophy of science while working as a scientist) I have yet to see Windshuttle’s critics refute his well researched and presented argument that historians exagerated and fabricated aspects of history. Apparently it is enough to decide he is right wing and say that he is just “nitpicking” or having a fetish about footnotes.

    The activites of the historians involved is a disgrace. Original sources are to historians what scientific data is to scientists. Misrepresenting such cited sources is the equvalent of manufacturing and doctoring data in science. The fact that having been so exposed, these people still have their careers and cheer squads whereas a scientist would be forever tainted is a disturbing comment on sholarship in the humanities.

    It is interesting that Margaret Simons was let in on the fraud at an early stage by its perpetrator. The Irony is that Wilson and Simons say that Windshuttle should have been allerted to early hints in the article that the author may be lying.

    I began to read Simon’s book The Meeting of the Waters on Secret Women’s business and the Hindmarsh Island affair.
    Yet in the first paragraph of the chaper titled Trust on page 30, Simons writes
    “I have ben told that many Aboriginal people are staggered by the amount of trust Europeans place in strangers…Our whole way of doing things rests on the assumption that people will not lie to us, and that they are whome they hold themselves out to be. Transparency , or the appearence of it, is a necessary part of adult life.

    Among traditional Aboriginal cultures, trust, and truth, is maily for kin.”

    Then Simons goes on to support every claim by aboriginal women who made the claims about secret womens business, while dismissing the testimony of aborigines who dispute it for no good reason. I did not bother finishing the book.

    The following is the uneditied version of my letter published in The Age on 9/1:

    Those who think that the fraud (as it would be called if published in a scientific journal) perpetrated on Keith Windshuttle discredits his critique of sloppy scholarship are wrong. If anything, this episode vindicates his argument, that editors and publishers depend on the professional diligence and integrity of their authors, a trust that is not always warranted. Even prestigious scientific journals have been caught out by fraud. There is nothing particularly clever about “Dr Sharon Gould” putting one over an editor of a non-scientific publication. The Age of 7/1 notes: “the projects cited are not implausible, and similar technologies are in development”. I have refereed scientific manuscripts prior to publication and checking cited references is not a routine part of the process, unless there is a reason to smell a rat, and the Quadrant article was not a rigorous technical piece submitted to a scientific journal.

    Windshuttle demonstrated in his book, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, that in a number of texts, professional historians had made claims in that were not supported by the references they cited as original sources. Windshuttle did not criticise the publishers of these texts. He criticised the authors, who bear the prime responsibility for ensuring their scholarship is up to scratch and free of fact-tinkering for ideological purposes. Windshuttle is not a scientist and did not write the Quadrant article. Windshuttle is only guilty of falling victim to the problem he allerted publishers, editors, scholars and the public to – some authors will lie.

    Dr Philip Shehan

  • 26
    jc
    January 11th, 2009 23:35

    I guess , richie that you will also think it’s a joke when similar things happen to the numerous “jokers” on the left. Because it will happen. That will put a smile of your face, right?

  • 27
    Mild Colonial Boy, Esq.
    January 26th, 2009 12:49

    I know that this is a bit late but here is another point of view on the Quadrant Hoax kerfuffle by R.J. Stove at the American emagazine Takimag: